Cycling has soared with the drop in traffic volumes experienced as an unintended consequence of the current lockdown, many people have resumed or taken to cycling who have previously been put off by dangerous traffic and pollution. Bikes have been dusted off and oiled up, released from the back of the garage for the first time in years. All ages and fitness have been cycling past my window in Nailsea; family outings with new peddlers, elderly couples on vintage cycles and enthusiastic explorers on clearly borrowed over and under sized steeds, as well as the lycra clad veterans who whiz by chasing a personal best.
There are national plans afoot to encourage and make room for cycling as we get back to work, the government has announced a £2bn plan to double cycling and increase walking by 2025, however this increase in active travel seems to have happened already, with bike sales doubling in Halfords in April. This forced change is presenting a great opportunity, currently our towns and cities are becoming experimental urbanists playgrounds to keep up with the spatial demands of social distancing and increased active transport. Right now, traffic restrictions, pop-up cycle ways and temporarily widened pavements are helping to enable social distancing, and it’s working. We need this speed of action, decision makers are having to act quickly and with new priorities, what previously sounded extreme, unnecessary or risky is now the only clear and sensible option, MORE CYCLE INFRASTRUCTURE!
The normal procedural negotiation and discussion of governance and decision making has had its own ‘unprecedented time’ and has now become action first. For example, in Bristol plans for city centre pedestrianisation have been accelerated and expanded to include cycle lanes and wider pavements in other areas of the city. Using an Experimental Traffic Order the changes will be implemented as soon as possible, impacts will be assessed and discussed at full consultation in the future, when permanent changes are decided. It is not only top-down action that is being seen on the streets, there is an amount of do-it-yourself urbanism going on too, with one popular running route in Bristol gaining its own running lane in the road, to leave adequate space for pedestrians on the pavement.
What will we learn from this new rise of experimental and DIY urbanism? Will we emerge into a brave new world of playful, adaptable and malleable cities? Let’s not waste this crisis, this is our chance to create space for people in our cities and make these experimental interventions permanent, so we can continue to healthily and safely move around in a non-polluting way whilst engaging with our environment and community.